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What Process do you Follow While Mapping?

Discussion in 'Mapping Questions & Discussion' started by PeterNorthsStuntDouble, Jul 25, 2009.

  1. PeterNorthsStuntDouble

    PeterNorthsStuntDouble L1: Registered

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    Hey everyone, I'm just curious if each of you experienced mappers on the site follow a set process when you make maps and if so what it is. I'm wondering if everyone makes maps in the same way or if each person is different.

    I'm not a terribly good mapper so I'm hoping to find some more structure to help me focus on each stage of map development instead of it feeling so overwhelming at the start.

    Thanks for reading.
  2. Icarus

    aa Icarus

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    Start with pencil and paper and think hard about how each team approaches each area. Try to alternate between open battlefields and chokepoints.

    You should have about 2.5 routes to every objective, and some routes usually offer an advantage over the others, but with a cost. ie height advantage, but at the cost of longer walking distance.

    Try not to think of visual detail until you have the entire map blocked out.
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  3. Open Blade

    Open Blade L7: Fancy Member

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    Yeah, drawing it out on paper first is a great place to start. But you should also know what works best before you do that process. Study some valve maps in hammer, their layout, routes, scale, etc. Most valve maps are segmented, meaning they are normally divided into separate mini maps if you will. Each containing it's own skybox, sealed from the other portions of the map except through a few various routes, normally doorways and such. Try to avoid the one big massive open area type of map, meaning one large skybox to cover all sections of the map. If you go study the valve maps, you will notice this.

    But, as you mentioned, we all have our different methods. I for example, will use some various props while I layout my brushwork to help with scale, but some props/models are actually needed to help you size the building structures properly (beams, rails, etc..). If you are planning on using some of those things, try and think of how it will look first, put your props into place and design your building to fit those. You don't want to make a complete building for example and then try to fit beams into place. You might find they don't fit right. Vents can be tricky too sometimes. The point is, you don't want to detail your map during your layout phase but think ahead of what props you might be planning to use in a certain area. And I'm talking about props that you build with, as I mentioned, beams, rails, fencing, etc. You can add the small detail stuff like crates and barrels later on.

    A lot of new mappers will do some of these things, try to avoid them the best you can.

    * Ceilings too low
    * Too many rooms or structures of the same size and shape
    * Not enough routes, too many routes, routes with no purpose
    * Flat maps, not enough height variation
    * Bad layout scale
    * Stairs - too steep with oversized steps
    * Dependence on props to give the map detail. Try to give your map alot of detail first using your brush work, then allow your props to "enhance" your look.
    * Use of good optimizing

    Again, make use of the valve maps, they are an excellent resource. You can turn off various items such as entities and what not to make browsing around the map faster and easier to see what's going on. Click on some of the walls and roofs and stuff and see what unit sizes they are and their relational size to other things such as props. These maps also serve to give you good ideas about what you might like in your own map. Try to avoid the copy and paste as much as you can, you don't want to build a dependence on having to copy somebody's work, you won't learn how to make it yourself. A great way I learned to build structures was to copy an area of a valve map into a new map (what I call a practice map), start deleting brushes until I had the building I wanted to check out all by itself in this new map. I then would look at each brush and make a new one of the same size in another area. I did this with all the brushes until I built the same exact building. Then, you start to tweak your building to be a little different and experiment. It's a great way to learn how to do advanced brushwork, but you need to know the tools first, because you will need all most all of them to do this. Once you've done a few dozen different types of buildings, you will get it down and can then just go into your map and build your own brush work from scratch, since you will have the knowledge of just how to build them. Again, don't just copy other buildings into your own map, that's frowned upon big time. Some of your buildings will probably be similar to valve's but that's okay, just try to have some unique features all your own, if you can. I did the same thing with displacements. I read tutorials, then copied a displacement from a valve map into my practice map, examined it, built the same exact displacement right next to it, piece by piece. Then I would play around with it, changing it and seeing what came of it. It's fun and practice makes perfect. I would refrain from practicing building stuff in the map file you want to be your official project, at first anyway. I always would build things in a practice map and then import it over to my "official" map once I liked what I built. And this is just me, but I had separate practice maps for certain things. For example, I had a practice displacement map, rooms, entities, etc..

    Good luck. Have fun.
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    Last edited: Jul 25, 2009
  4. grazr

    aa grazr Old Man Mutant Ninja Turtle

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    Also to note that when going from paper to practice, don't be afraid to change things. As scaling can often be an issue, so you will have to make modifications and adaptions to fit the scenario.

    Always be free and durable with your original idea otherwise you just make things difficult for yourself.

    Utilising the "developer" textures to block out your map allows you to make sure all your entity's work and scaling is adequite before you detail. Otherwise you might find yourself deleting a lot of work to fix stuff. This also allows your map to be playtested to find gameplay issues that may require fixing as well.

    Icarus's summary is pretty much perfect when designing your map.
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  5. UKCS-Alias

    aa UKCS-Alias Mann vs Machine... or... Mapper vs Meta?

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    I never draw out my map but i do think about what i find important, then ill check if i can make those key areas in hammer and if they got the right scale. after that ill check how i can continue best on that area. Its more of a trial and error way (and believe me, i have removed about 90% of the map in cp_step once, only a few texture combinations were kept). Its a pain hence i wont make that mistake again.

    I now allways use dev textures and basic blocks in areas that might require big changes. As you dont know what youll have to change until the first test.

    Also, if you got a visual key area use normal textures but use minimal detail. have placeholder brushes instead. As long as you are still on the basic brushwork without detail changing stuff isnt hard.

    Only use key props for sizes. doorways, windows, some fences. those are key objects and they will also tell if you sized the map well. Only add very detailed parts if those are a must for that area and you arent going to change that alot (at most move or stretch it a bit). They have a risk of needed to be deleted after all.

    Its all about what you prefer though, but starting with just the basic brushwork seems to work most of the time, how you do some detailing in the alpha stage is diffirent for everyone.
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  6. PeterNorthsStuntDouble

    PeterNorthsStuntDouble L1: Registered

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    Wow, I'm overwhelmed by all the responses. Thank you all very much. :D
  7. Jamini

    Jamini L4: Comfortable Member

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    I don't follow a particular process per say, but I do have a general guideline that I follow while making maps.

    Step 1: The Idea

    First I identify what the central idea of my map is. A big single fortress owned by both teams? A siege on a base from many sides? A running map with dynamic objectives? A fast-paced "fun" rather than "balanced" ctf map? A map that addreses the issues inherant with a valve map? Identifying what my goals are for the map I'm working on is often the first vital step in producing a level.

    Step 2: The Theme

    WHERE is it? From tried and true Desert to an outer-space rendition of 2fort to a 3-d version of the original Donkey Kong. What you envision the final "look" of the map to be (or should be) will have a large impact on your design, especially for the buildings. For example, a desert town may have delapitated wooden buildings that only provided partial cover, while an alpin semi-urban center or Spytech base may look sparkling new and have smooth defensive barricades. An alpine setting may have tall, steep rooftops to keep rain out of the buildings, while a dustbowl environment could easily be nearly totally flat and squad, the buildings showing the character of the desert.

    Step 3: Draw Draw Draw!

    Now that you have an idea and a theme, it's time to start sketching. Draw the layout, draw sights that players would likely see as they progressed through the stage, draw top-down and orthographic representations of your rooms, draw until your hands are sore and you have a good idea of how your map is going to be laid out before you even TOUCH hammer. Personally, for this point I normally take a stack of stickynotes and just start sketching. Oftentimes I'll have a very rough layout note in the middle, and i'll just post the scene and top-down notes at the approximate area of that note's location on the layout sketch. By the end of this stage I've already got a good idea of what my final layout is going to look like for the map, and might even have an idea of how combat is going to flow within it.

    Step 4: Block it out.

    Take dev textures (I stick with gray, and a bland rockwall) and start getting that layout down! Try and avoid doing too much detail work at this stage. Instead you should be focusing on getting your layout right. In this stage problems such as ceiling heights, crouching heights, and jumping heights should be addressed to avoid problems later.

    Step 5: Functioning Objectives

    Right, now that you've got your layout *roughly* done it's time to get the map working! Read (or review) the tutorials for making spawn rooms, objectives, and important triggers. Right now you want to get the map playable so you can playtest as soon as possible. Step 5 and 4 normally are done at the same time, at least for me, but really they are quite different steps and should be treated as such. This part is probably the easiest part of the entire stage, and once you have objectives and some basic lighting/skybox lighting in... well your at Alpha 1.

    Step 6: Refine and Texture

    At this point you should be playtesting your map with friends, clanmates, or here. Everything is together and working now, and although ugly your map is perfectly workable. Listen to the advice your playtesters give you and adjust your map accordingly if you even half agree with their opinions. This is when major layout changes are the easiest to make and you should take advantage of that. While you get your map closer and closer to it's final layout you should also focus on making your brushwork more detailed, as well as starting on your texturing. Once you texture an area you should also work with it's lighting, since lighting is the #2 most important thing within a map. (right after layout)

    In this stage you should also place any large or important gameplay props. Such as the boulder on badlands.

    Step 7: Refine and Props (and displacements)

    We're still an alpha, but by this point you have went over the entire map with a paintbrush and carpenter nails. Your layout has changed significantly, and dozens of minor problems or unconceived issues have been quashed one by one in a flurry of intense testing. Now it's probably a good time to publicly announce your map and regularly bringing it up for gamedays and playtests. While the testers will hunt fiercely for any problems in your map YOU have a much harder job now: Find locations for props that add to rather than detracting from gameplay. Now that you don't need to worry about texturing so much, you can focus on making your lighting perfect, and getting just the right overlays up. Displacement work, especially displacements outside of the play area, is also ideal for this stage. You're near the end of your alpha, but before you go beta you can't just have a 'working map', it needs to be a 'damn good looking' map. When you finish this stage you are very nearly ready for beta.

    Step 8: Optimize

    You've read up on how func_details, areaportals, occulars, nodraw, and hint/skip brushes work right? No? go do it. Yes? Go back and review it. It's time for us to make this map run WELL. Now that the layout is mostly finalized and the lighting is solid, you can make decisions on how best to optimize without needing to worry about screwing things up later. Get it right the first time, halve your normal compile time and double your framerates! ONTO BETA!

    Step 9: Refine and Texture Mrk II

    Playtest, playtest, playtest! Get your map out there so people know about it, fight in lines to get your map into events, talk to as many server owners as you can! The more you test your map at this stage, the better it will be and the more likely it'll be a big hit. If people like your map, then PUSH it! If they don't, FIND OUT WHY! Adjust, edit, fix, and nudge until you are so tired of your own map that you need a week's vacation.

    Then, take all of those suggestions, screenshots, and advice you got in your playtests and disappear for a month. iron out every possible problem in your map. Try and check every brush face visible to make sure it's perfectly aligned, and make sure that every detail is exactly as you want it to be. Once you are happy with it, check it again, adjust it four more times to be sure, and then release a new beta. Once you, and all of your testers, are certain there is nothing left to do.... well...

    Step 10: Optimize and Final

    Give that map one more final look-over for it's optimization, then throw it out the door and hope that it lives! Obviously you should still push your map, but at this point it's really quite grown up and... if it's good... well-known in the customs community, and potentially by a few people outside of it. Hell, at this point you might even suggest to Valve to take a look at it, they've made maps official with less work done than you have. Perhaps while you wait for them to include it in the next update you can focus on a new project.
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  8. Nerdbot

    Nerdbot L7: Fancy Member

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    I plan out some things extensively but just wing it with others. I often just take a single area, extensively plan that out and design it, and then ideas just flow from there, like "how can I balance that out?" or "How can I extend upon this?" or "What would be a practical area to put behind here?"

    I always do work with spawn rooms and stuff like control points, intel rooms, etc. ASAP, but modes like Payload don't always permit such a thing.
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